Tire stockpiles reduced as Zika threat looms

Tire stockpiles reduced as Zika threat looms in 2017

Scrap tire piles have declined by more than 93 percent in the past 20 years, with tire clean-ups becoming urgent under the threat of the Zika virus. The Rubber Manufacturers Association (RMA) says of the more than 1 billion stockpiled scrap tires that existed in 1990, only about 70 million remain to be cleaned up.

However with more than 25,700 confirmed Zika cases in the U.S., eliminating stockpiles of tires – which are popular breeding grounds for mosquito-borne diseases like Zika — is more important than ever.

Huge success, but Zika threat still looms

Approximately 70 percent of the U.S.’s remaining tires are stockpiled in just two states — Colorado (31 million) and Texas (17 million), while Arkansas, Illinois, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Washington account for almost 12 million additional stockpiled tires combined.

“More than two decades of successful scrap tire management have produced value-added products that today consume more than 200 million tires annually,” said RMA president and CEO Anne Forristall Luke. “The dramatic reduction in scrap tire piles has reduced the threat of significant environmental harm caused when tire piles catch fire or sit and become mosquito and vermin breeding grounds.”

While the RMA’s report is good news for the environment, the recent and ongoing threat of the mosquito-borne Zika virus to people in the U.S. means it is now more important than ever that stockpiles of old tires, no matter how small, are disposed of quickly and appropriately. Abandoned tires are fertile mosquito breeding grounds due to the ability to collect water, retain heat and offer protection from predators.

Tire dealers, particularly those in warmer climates, need to make sure their stockpiles do not create ideal conditions for mosquito breeding, which varies greatly across North America. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention the first local spread of Zika virus through infected mosquitoes in the continental U.S. occurred in Miami, Florida, in late July.

A dynamic end use tire market

Tire recycling in the U.S. has grown leaps and bounds, with the RMA reporting nearly 90 percent of annually generated scrap tires are now consumed in an end use market. The top-end use markets for tires include tire-derived fuel (48 percent), ground rubber (26 percent) and civil engineering uses (seven percent).

Tire-derived fuel (TDF) is used primarily by the cement industry and pulp and paper makers as a supplemental fuel due to its high BTU (heat) content. Ground rubber markets include mulch, rubber modified asphalt, sport surfaces such as athletic tracks and some limited use in new tire manufacturing. Civil engineering uses include tire aggregate as a replacement fill material for light rail vibration dampening, road embankments and other uses.

Forristall Luke says maintaining the achievements in stockpile reduction is an ongoing challenge. States that become complacent risk an increase in illegal tire piles and reduced funding for clean-up of abandoned piles.

Why is Zika so dangerous?

Before 2013 Zika was rare, but it has since been discovered in Pacific islands and Southeast Asia and has spread to Brazil, where scientists estimate as many as 1.5 million people could be infected. While the World Health Organization said no deaths attributable to Zika have been reported, Zika is linked to a birth defect called microcephaly, the medical term for abnormally small heads.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends using larvicides that cannot be removed or dumped in containers and bodies of water.

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